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Work Smarter By Steering Clear of Survival Mode

Posted On
Scott Crucean

A man choosing to go through one door which says growth and another that says survival to choose between growth or survival mode.

Are you trying to crack down and get more serious about your small business in the new year? Whether you’re getting ready to launch your business, looking to expand, or simply keep things moving, you may be thinking that success will come from working more hours. Some believe the number of hours worked weighs more than the quality of hours worked, especially if you’re putting in fewer hours. However, if increasing your productivity is a resolution you face every year, there could be scientific reasoning for why you can’t hit the goals you’re looking for. To work smarter in the new year, incorporate some of the tips below.

There’s Gotta Be a Better Way

“You worked 60 hours last week? Wow, you must really be getting places! Congratulations.”

Today, society expects and rewards those who work hard. But, what if the determining factor in your career success wasn’t so much how many hours you logged at work as it was how smart you worked the hours you did work?

Did you know that science can play a large role in our productivity? Our body’s circadian rhythms, which have taken hundreds of thousands of years to evolve into what they are now, will not conveniently change on account of our career-centric New Year’s resolutions, however much determination and conviction we may be feeling right now in this moment of pure inspiration. For example, have you ever felt like you’re ready for a nap, or another cup of coffee at 2 or 3 pm? Most people struggle with these feelings every day because of circadian rhythms. Instead of pushing yourself to do your hardest task of the day during that time, work with your body and schedule something lighter, and adapt to the rhythm your body already follows.

Another relevant performance analogy would be owning an expensive sports car. If you were the proud owner of an expensive sports car, you would expect great performance out of it, right? You’d understand that putting cheap gas in it and not having it serviced regularly would only result in the car not performing as intended. Well, it’s the same thing with our bodies. Our bodies are constantly optimizing themselves in an attempt to anticipate what resources will be needed throughout a given day, and when those resources will be needed. One of the ways we can assist our bodies in this process is by having the same life schedule every day. This way we are not throwing sudden scheduling curve balls at our systems and our bodies can then finally relax into homeostasis, which is basically a feeling of equilibrium. This feeling is equilibrium is what people call the zone which is the sweet spot where we can dream and effectively work towards our goals.

Growth Vs. Survival Mode

Informed by all that we’ve learned via our evolutionary pasts, our bodies basically have two modes of operation: growth mode and survival mode. Each is optimized to function within the different environments we are likely to encounter in our lives. Let’s take a quick look at some of the qualities of each:

Survival Mode: In our distant pasts as human beings, this mode made safety possible. In the unfortunate event of a life-threatening situation, survival mode shuts down any bodily systems that are not 100% necessary for our survival and elicits the Fight or Flight Response. While Fight or Flight is necessary when it comes to a life-threatening emergency, Fight or Flight can also be triggered in situations like work-related stress or conflicts with others. After our body releases the chemicals associated with Fight or Flight, we often become very tired. Therefore, when you’re chronically stressed and always prepared for a fight, you might find yourself exhausted, feeling like you can’t catch up, and struggling to reach the goals that you have set for yourself.

Growth Mode: In this mode, the body is experiencing feel-good chemicals that contribute to a palpable sense of integrity, contentment, and wholeness. Life is good. Since we know we are safe, our body optimizes itself for maximum creativity and fun. Additionally, we are more grateful for all our many opportunities, we can see possibilities everywhere, and life is great overall. Whether or not the real weather outside agrees, your days still feel sunny and clear to you at all times. If this mode sounds foreign to you, or even like an impossibility, that would be a strong sign that you have been logging way too many hours in Survival Mode.

Because inflammation is our bodies primary method of dealing with stress (even stress of the emotional variety), when we are in survival mode, hormones present in our bodies change our brain function via the constriction of its blood vessels in the forebrain, where we ordinarily experience things like logic, and conscious reasoning. Our thinking and problem-solving skills begin to break down. When our forebrain is inflamed, our blood is now forced to our hindbrain, leaving us to operate solely from past conditioning and reactive behavior. Due to the intensity of this stress, our focus will leave the present moment and fixate on difficulties in either the past or the future with the end result being that as we become more fearful of life and less hopeful, we become less intelligent.

The characteristics and qualities of growth mode are where we want to be living every day. When you are working in growth mode, you might find yourself working smarter, not harder.

So how do we take up permanent residence in growth mode? It’s all about treating yourself like the sports car we mentioned earlier. You need to treat yourself well, find the right fuel, and give yourself a break to recover.  

How to Achieve a Growth Mindset and Work Smarter

When looking at the example of the sports car, you see that practicing some self-care can help you get set up for the growth mindset you’re looking for to succeed with your business and life goals. While you might be feeling overwhelmed with everything you need to do for your business, employees, and customers, if you place your own needs after all of this you should now be able to see that this is not a sustainable way of achieving your dreams.

Want to spend more quality time in growth mode, and less survival?

  • Take a break. Often when we are busy, it feels impossible to pause for a minute and take time away from your endless to-do list. Taking small breaks throughout the day to check in with how you’re feeling can do wonders for your productivity. Are you feeling like you need to get out of the office for a reset? What would put you squarely back in the game? Try to take a walk, go grab a coffee, or even chat with your employees. Any little break can leave you feeling rejuvenated and ready to get back to the tasks at hand. Learn to see this not so much as goofing off or procrastination, but as you invest in your own well being and future.
  • Set a schedule and stick to it. Do you have the tendency to stick to routine during the week, but as soon as Friday night rolls around you’re staying up later and sleeping in on Saturday? While it doesn’t sound fun, your body will thank you for sticking to a consistent routine during the week, and the weekends. Following a consistent schedule will help your circadian rhythms too, and can help you focus better during the week.
  • Focus on quality sleep. Many people say that they struggle with sleep; it’s either not enough sleep, difficulty falling asleep, or tossing and turning throughout the night. The most optimal sleeping conditions are in no light, and at a temperature where you want to be under the covers. Blackout curtains, and removing clocks or LED lights are also helpful as the tiniest bit of light can sometimes disrupt sleep. Other people benefit from some white noise, which can be achieved using an app, machine, or even a fan.
  • Choose your meals wisely. You know that making the right food choices is necessary for your physical health, but have you considered how food plays a role in your brain and emotional health? While heavy foods like pizza or a sandwich might sound appealing for lunch, they can cause you to slow down in the afternoon, further adding the 2 pm slump. Start paying attention to how you feel after eating certain foods and specifically, how you’re cognitive abilities are impacted by your dietary choices. Slowly test how your body responds to different foods and work to find a routine and meals that work with you and give you the energy you need to productively be present during the hours that you do work.

Bottom Line

By being smarter with your resources and treating your own wellbeing as the primary driver of your future success, you can remove much of the difficulty standing between you and whatever business goals you may have.

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